After working for years in public relations in the greater Philadelphia area, Irene Levy Baker knows a thing or two about the region. She used her expertise to pen her first book, 100 Things to do in Philadelphia Before You Die (Reedy Press, 160 pages) in 2016. She followed it up with a 2018 release of Unique Eats and Eateries of Philadelphia (Reedy Press, 208 pages), which breaks down 90 of the region’s best culinary spots, including some Main Line area favorites like Five Saints Distilling, Di Bruno Bros., Sabrina’s Café, Savona and Tired Hands Brewing Company. Here, she shares a glimpse into the new book.
MLT: Where does your passion for food come from?
ILB: I like everything having to do with food. I like eating it, cooking it, talking about it. I’m the kind of person that wanders into interesting cooking stores when I come across them. [I also enjoy] reading cookbooks.
MLT: How’d you begin your selection process?
ILB: The first step is always a list, and that’s a living, breathing thing as I discover new places. Philadelphia has such a wealth of fabulous, interesting, unique restaurants. Getting it to 90 was tough. And it’s not all restaurants—it’s restaurants and foodie places like Reading Terminal Market.
MLT: What can readers expect from the book?
ILB: It’s written in short passages [and] has a lot of photographs of the restaurants, the chefs we’re talking about, and the food. People can page through it easily, cross out the ones they’ve been to or the one’s they’re not interested in, circle the ones they do want to go to, and almost use it as a travel guide.
MLT: What else do you touch on in the book?
ILB: I have tips about many of [the featured] places, like how to get reservations at Philadelphia’s trendiest restaurants. I talk about things you can order that aren’t on the menu, like a vertical gelato tasting at Gran Caffé L’Aquila—it’s five heaping teaspoons of different flavors of gelato. Or the place where you can get a free bowl of soup with your lunch.
Related: Q&A: Author Irene Levy Baker
MLT: How long did it take you to write Unique Eats?
ILB: It took me about 18 months, and it was grueling. That was on top of my regular job.
MLT: What do you love about the region’s food and culinary scene?
ILB: I think we can thank William Penn for the great culinary scene. Because William Penn founded the city with the guarantee of the freedom of religion, that meant we had people from all over the world coming here. Philadelphia became a great melting pot and we have so many different types of cuisines.
MLT: Did you recommend a cheesesteak shop?
ILB: I have to talk about Philadelphia cheesesteaks, and I give people this suggestion: Go to Pat’s and Geno’s with a friend, trade halves, and decide for yourself what you like. I also mention other cheesesteak places Philadelphians tend to love.